Feb 25, 2014 - JAZZ DEPOT PRESENTS “SUPER BLUES SUNDAY” ON MARCH 2
Three of the four headlining bluesmen on the Jazz Depot’s big Super BluesSunday show will be playing off a musical relationship that stretches back for decades. The other one brings with him a stellar musical resume that began in the early 1950s, when, as a teenager, he began accompanying Tulsa blues legend Jimmy “Cry Cry” Hawkins.
The first three are guitarist-vocalist Little Joe McLerran, bassist-vocalist Robbie Mack – who’s also Joe’s dad -- and harmonica player-guitarist-vocalist Johnny Long.“I’ve been playing the guitar since I was eight, so I’ve been playing with Robbie since back then,” notes McLerran. “My dad and Johnny used to play together quite a bit, and when I was about nine years old, my brother and I went to a Johnny Long gig and played on one of his breaks, and some people out in the crowd gave us fifty bucks. That was one of my first paying gigs.
“I knew Johnny up in the Denver area, where he was living at the time,” adds McLerran. “We’d go to his gigs when I was a little kid. I was definitely into blues, and who better to check out, stylistically, than Johnny? He’s about as good as it gets. The style of harmonica he plays is the real old-time stuff; he’s just the very genuine article.”
The fourth member of Sunday’s lineup is internationally known jazz drummer Washington Rucker, who joins the festivities after playing an extremely well received jazz show at the Depot the previous Sunday with a different group of area musicians. A Tulsa native, he now lives in Los Angeles, where he has performed, recorded, and toured with stars ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Stevie Wonder.
“The drummer I went to the Dominican Republic with was talking about him on the trip,” says McLerran. “He didn’t know him, but he knew all about his stuff.”
Although neither may have thought about it, Tulsa resident McLerran and former Tulsan Rucker have one big thing in common: They’re both inductees into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Rucker went into the Hall in 1998, while McLerran was given the Hall’s Legacy Tribute Award last year.
The Dominican Republic tour referred to by McLerran, which included a show at a women’s prison that he calls “pretty wild,’ just ended. He did it under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State, which has sent him on several other musical trips to different countries.
“Those kinds of tours, for me, are about the best,” he says. “You can go out there and talk about blues as an American art form, as something very serious, and they really, really understand it. I think it’s a beautiful thing – a cultural exchange program. I mean, I come back here, and I can talk about the Dominican Republic, and how great the music is down there, and the people. You learn to realize that people are people, wherever they’re from.”
McLerran and Robbie Mack are from Colorado, where they first became acquainted with Johnny Long. When Joe turned 15, the family moved to Tulsa, and he and his dad continued playing music. While working the Tulsa-based Oklahoma Blues Festival in 2004, McLerran learned that one of his idols, a 93-year-old bluesman named Homesick James, was scheduled to appear on the event’s final night. Homesick James, McLerran explains, was “kind of an adopted parent” of Johnny Long, to the point that they called each other father and son. At that time, Long had been taking care of James for several years.
McLerran – who was then performing under the name Son Piedmont -- volunteered to drive James andLong back to their home in Springfield, Mo.; after the three had spent the day together, James dubbed him “Little Joe.” It’s the name he’s used ever since.
For Sunday’s show, McLerran, “We’re going to keep it kind of loose. We’ll have the four of us there for sure, but there just might be some others. Who knows?”
Super Blues Sunday is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, March 2, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Spring Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.